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Sunday Opinion: You Say Tomato, I Say Toma-please-don’t-fail-again-to

Each Sunday morning across December will be bringing you a new column from Kellie Watkinson, Creative Writer in the radio industry, recent first time Mum and lifetime weather enthusiast. 

The past three summers I have attempted to grow tomatoes. The past three summers I have failed. Sometimes I have failed only a little. Sometimes, like last year, I have failed a lot. Sometimes I suspect it’s the soil they’re planted in that has failed me. Sometimes I suspect it is my lack of tender loving care that has failed the plants. Other times I believe it is the combination of diabolic dirt, my ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to watering and pruning the plants, along with the weather that has brought my tomato growing attempts to a dismal end year after year.

Let me start at the beginning. The first year I bought the tomato plants from the nursery. I bought the stakes. I planted them in the most well drained area I could find, which is rather hard when the majority of your garden is either thick and gluggy when wet, or rock hard when dry. Ah, the joys of clay. That year, two tomato plants just shriveled up and died, whilst the other four plants survived and managed to produce about 10 ravishing red tomatoes each, which were divine when sliced onto buttered toast with fresh basil leaves scattered on top. The sweet taste of a little tomato growing success.

The second year I had to move the tomatoes to a different spot as I’d read somewhere that you can’t plant them in the same spot year after year. With our small garden this meant planting in a spot that was pretty darn clayish. Three tomato plants survived that year. Producing maybe eight tomatoes each. Funnily enough a rogue cherry tomato plant sprung up in the back yard where we had raised flower beds. It was rather prolific, although few tomatoes made it into any salads or used for bruschetta toppings as the majority were popped straight into my gob.

The final year I planted my wee tomato seedlings in a sunnier spot which I thought had better drainage. What I didn’t count on was last years summer being so wet. It rained. It poured. It showered. It persisted down. And my poor little tomato seedlings were left underwater for days at a time. Despite the deluge one lone tomato plant managed to grow one lone stunted tomato. Which a wormy bug decided to make its home. I’d have cried into my homemade tomato soup if I’d had any tomatoes to make soup out of.

This year we’ve moved to a new house. Yep, the struggle to grow a vege garden finally got to me and instead of just giving up and buying my veges like any sane person would do, I declared that we had to move. So we did, to another house which also happens to have a garden that’s made of clay. Probably should’ve checked that before I signed on the dotted mortgage line. As luck would have it though I’ve found one sunny spot which also happens to be sheltered with free draining soil, so I’m giving this tomato growing lark one more go.

I have planted three big tomato plants, including a fancy heirloom tomato which will be blackish if (fingers, toes and eyes crossed) it flourishes, as well as two cherry tomato plants. I have stakes. Some tomato food, which I had last year but had no reason to use. I even have copper stuff to spray on them. Best of all even if it buckets down all summer like it did last year it shouldn’t matter as the tomatoes are planted on a sloping area of garden. I may just smell the sweet succulent scent of tomatoey success in the air.

However, if anyone has any tips to help ensure success please throw them my way. Chances are I’ll need them.

– Top right photo / Kellie Watkinson

– Blog by Kellie Watkinson – Follow Kellie on Twitter:  @Quitesimplykell

*Editor’s Note:  Kellie will be writing a column each Sunday across December for – bringing you a perspective from a Kiwi Mum who loves the weather, loves gardening, and is packaged up in an often witty, always fun, style of writing.


Zelda Wynn on 9/12/2012 1:58am

I enjoyed reading about your failures (a word not often used), I too fail to grow tomatoes as my large dogs cause damage to tender plants. A fence helps and this year finally have weeded most of the patch to plant beans. Here’s hoping your crop is large this year.

MartV on 8/12/2012 9:01pm

Hi Kellie,
Love your article and your frustrations with tomatoes:)
Doesn’t matter if you have nasty hard clay, beautiful soil or concrete for that matter to grow great and flavorsome tomatoes.
Grow them in 10 or 20 liter buckets, water and feed them and you will be rewarded with plenty of delicious tomatoes for all to enjoy.
The good thing with pots is that you can put them where you like so you are not limited to the position of your garden. And when you move house you can take them with you.
My favorites are Grosse Lisse and Money Maker for that one slice per piece of toast treat and the Sweet 100’s for the salads.
Good luck


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